Barnsley is a town with a city mindset. The town has set high aspirations for the quality of the public realm and the amenities it offers residents. The vision of the council is driven by a set of values – showing pride in the town, being honest to its residents, striving for excellence and working as a team. Those four values shape the priorities and the approach to developing and managing the place and underpin the way the council works as an organisation and with community groups. Delivering Barnsley as a market town for the 21st century has been a strong focus for the council and that has opened up debate about how you get different communities to use and relate to the town centre, ensure its longer-term sustainability and deliver an evening and a day time economy. The investment in the new market, cultural projects and leisure facilities are all part of the visible achievements of those discussions.
Barnsley is located in South Yorkshire between Leeds and Sheffield with a population of just over 91,000. It is the main town of the wider metropolitan borough that straddles two city regions. Barnsley is surrounded by several smaller settlements. The M1 runs close by affording access to the motorway network. Barnsley is a former industrial town centred on linen, coal mining and glassmaking, with a culture rooted in its industrial heritage which shapes the community, the architecture and the urban form.
The council demonstrates impressive leadership and governance and an energy and commitment to the town. A new way of working has been developed and rolled out across every level in the council, all achieved in the face of swingeing cuts that have decimated funds and numbers of staff.
The centrepiece of the town’s achievements is the new market. Barnsley is a traditional market town; it is part of the identity of the place; a reason to visit and spend time there. The first priority therefore, has been to deliver a brand-new market, housed in the modernised metropolitan centre. That project is nearing completion. Thoughtful, creative quality architectural design is delivering a market to be proud of and a building which makes a visible statement about the importance with which the market is held, not only as a place to shop, but as a community space and part of the town’s identity. The design of the market opens into the existing town centre shopping. New public realm and pedestrian links will visibly connect the market to the transport interchange. A new public square with a cinema multiplex and Superbowl bowling venue surrounded by family-friendly restaurants (currently under construction) will create a new space for people to gather. This new square will knit together the key districts within the town including the Victorian Arcade and Town Hall. It will make the compact centre a free-flowing pedestrian-friendly town centre. Improved bus routes to surrounding neighbourhoods, makes the town more accessible to communities in the hinterland settlements.
The Digital Campus is another key current development, that will bring together small digital businesses and high-quality town centre living to create a ‘campus’ to learn, work and live in the town centre. The scheme is seen as helping to ensure the economic sustainability of the town in the future. The council is keen to deliver a flexible development that can evolve to meet future needs. For example, they’ve asked for multi-storey parking that can be easily adapted to another use, in anticipation of the reduction of car use in the foreseeable future.
The cultural facilities punch above their weight for the size of the town. The small and excellent Cooper Gallery shows regional exhibitions as well as its own collections and an events room and small garden make the gallery very family friendly. The Experience Barnsley Museum and Discovery Centre tells the history of the borough and its people – both the scale and the content of the museum exceeds expectations for a town of its size.
The council’s experience is that businesses are looking for quality town centres in which to locate. Investment in the public realm, culture and leisure is regarded as part of creating the environment to encourage business growth and inward investment by creating a quality place to live and work. The town is currently experiencing a period of growth, especially start-ups and SMEs.
The council’s focus is on creating a town that can support the needs of the total borough; a town in which to work, live, shop and visit. The town has made some important steps towards achieving that ambition.